sixes and nines

I’ve been tagged by two of my favourite blog buddies, Helen and Suzanne. Helen was kind enough to name me as a kreativ blogger (thankyou Helen!) while Suzanne‘s tag involves doing something complicated – nay, well nigh apocalyptic – with six bloggers and the sixth photo in your computer’s sixth folder. Now, I know that Suzanne was hoping that the number of the beast would actually turn out to be that of Jesus (my cat), but unfortunately it didn’t – I’ll just have to make my feline household god pose for you another day. Anyway, I picked the folder that is sixth alphabetically on my external storage (I stopped keeping pics on my mac since it went ape last year) and that folder was entitled Coast to Coast. Here is the sixth photo.


To add another random six to the mix, this photo was taken on the sixth of the twelve days it took Tom and I to traverse the fine northern country from St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay, following the well-trodden footsteps of Alfred Wainwright. What you see here are a few of the mysterious cairns that give Nine Standards Rigg its name, and the figure of yours truly, leaning against one of them.

Though it is not half-way in terms of distance, Nine Standards Rigg is the psychological mid-point of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk. It marks the historic boundary between Westmorland and the North Riding of Yorkshire and also sits on the Pennine watershed. Westward, rivers flow toward the Irish Sea, but from this point on, they empty East into the North Sea. It affords spectacular views across spectacular country. To the West, you see the dome-shaped sleeping giants that are the Howgill Fells, and to the East lies green and lovely Swaledale. “The attainment of Nine Standards Rigg is an occasion for celebration,” writes Wainwright, “if you are carrying a can of beer, prepare to drink it now.” We did not crack open the ale, but I recall that I did guzzle two mars bars (obligatory walking fuel) shortly before this picture was taken.

On the matter of what exactly the Nine Standards are, many walking books say something like “their origins are shrouded in mystery”* before claiming (with sadly predictable Englishness) that they acted as a warning to marauding Scots with (one presumes) terrible eyesight, since wee Jimmy was supposed to mistake the stone “standards” for those of a waiting army. Wainwright pooh-poohs this notion, but notes that the cairns are clearly not Victorian follies as they appear on much earlier maps. I myself have seen them marked on eighteenth-century topographical surveys, but to be honest, I quite like not knowing just what they are. Because to me, the standards are simply the best kind of folk art — spontaneous built-things, marks on the landscape, structures and signs with a purpose quite other than that of human shelter or the shelter of beasts. They are incredibly characterful cairns — stubborn, stolid, querulous, even — and when we were up there, the original nine had been joined by some proudly teetering additions of much more recent construction.

Before this picture was taken, we had walked across the Westmorland limestone pavement– a landscape I love. Our path took us past stone circles, tumuli, and the mysterious remains of Severals Settlement. As we neared Kirkby Stephen, the Nine Standards came into view on the horizon, and I remember finding them just as evocative as all the other signs of earlier lives — earlier feet and earlier hands — that we had seen that day.

Well, before I spiral off an into orbit about the Wonder of Ancient Stones or something, let me return quickly to the photo. Tom took it with one of those crappy disposable cameras (pack-weight is a serious issue on a long distance walk) — and given that, I think its pretty good — all I did after we had it developed was scan, desaturate, and turn down the brightness (it was a bit flare-y). I’d also like to mention that despite my near-rapturous account of Nine Standards Rigg, shortly after this photo was taken, things took a turn for the worse as I reluctantly traversed eight hideously boggy miles across Whitsundale. By the end of the day, I recall that I was forced to turn to my thing of last resort in these situations — what I must do when the mars bars run out — which is to silently narrate The Love Match, scene by scene, in order to to stave off sheer exhaustion (seriously, don’t ask).

There are far too many blogs and photographers I enjoy to name just six of you. Please consider yourselves well and truly tagged if you are reading this, and dig out the sixth of the sixth of the sixth photo. . . . or whatever, and write about it. Fun!

*Re: the puzzling origins and function of the Nine Standards, while writing this post I discovered that this Kirkby Stephen scholar has apparently Revealed All in a recent publication. . .